Please choose: 2004 Volkswagen Golf R32 (MkIV) or 2006-07 Subaru Impreza WRX Wagon

If you had to choose one of these for a high-altitude climate with seasonal wintry conditions, which would it be and why? Assume that the primary purpose of the vehicle is to be a ‘fun’ car, and that practicality (while useful and appreciated) is somewhat secondary.

A quick comparison of the most important figures:

’04 R32

  • 3.2 liter naturally-aspirated VR6 engine
  • 240 HP @ 6,250 rpm; 236 ft lb @ 2,800 rpm
  • Curb weight: 3,409 lbs (ouch)
  • MSRP (new): $29,100
  • Average current resale value: $15,689 (source)

’06-07 WRX

  • 2.5 liter turbocharged flat-four Boxer engine
  • 230 HP @ 5,600 rpm; 235 ft lb @ 3,600 rpm
  • Curb weight: 3,192 lbs
  • MSRP (new): $24,495
  • Average current value: $11,737 – $13,937 (source)

Of course, pictures:



We have our own thoughts on this but are curious what others have to say. Have at it!

(Image credit: Daemon42 on vwvortex)

~ by velofinds on March 6, 2013.

38 Responses to “Please choose: 2004 Volkswagen Golf R32 (MkIV) or 2006-07 Subaru Impreza WRX Wagon”

  1. r32 because of the lovely vr6 noise! and a more refined interior.

  2. The Subaru hands down. There is a reason that Subaru has had a huge following in the mountains of Colorado for decades and it isn’t snob appeal.

  3. First of all, I’ve never owned either but seen a lot of them and similar models around to know a few things about each:

    The Haldex system is VERY poor for proper enthusiast driving. You will understeer all day long and if it ever decides to activate (electronically and in a very slow fashion), it will go back and forth from (max) 50-50 to full front axle traction and make your progress quite clumsy.

    Meanwhile, the Subaru symmetrical AWD seems to be very popular in STis, but not so sure on the lesser models, although I believe they’re basically the same if I’m not very mistaken.

    The R32 sounds way cooler from the factory, but nothing that a good exhaust can’t fix for a nice throaty Subie.

    Coolness factor, you can’t go wrong with a Wagon Impreza, although Vee Dubs are too, but overdone in the “Hella flush” community if you ask me. This Mk IV R32 tho, is one of my all time favs Golfs, although I’m not really a fan of most VW products.

    Reliability wise, maybe the VW is tougher engine wise (I hear horror stories of Subarus boxer engines being fragile and maintenance sensitive up to the point of engines breaking down for not using Mobil 1…), but the VW interiors age pretty bad with buttons loosing their paint and other nasty details that make it quite unpleasant to own on a long term.

    But living with them, probably it will always be better finished and cooler (blue gauge cluster at night is a classic in Golfs and other VWs) than the plain, functional, plasticky Subaru.

    Hope this helps!

    • that is quite wrong. these days, ALL of the modern AWD systems are using a differential to transfer power just like Haldex. If anything, haldex is the most flexible and performance oriented option out there with a significantly lower weight and far more flexibility in driving conditions. There are units that can alter the entire dynamics of haldex, and for all intensive purpose under ANY amount of slip the car is on AWD. The understeering on cars which use haldex like the R32 or TT are easily cured by a beefed up rear sway bar. If you recall, the original MK1 TT had a tendency to actually snap OVERSTEER, but was recalled and fitted with a smaller sway bar. Once the thicker swaybar goes in, the oversteer returns.

      • Well, I’m sorry, but you are mistaken, since not ALL the current AWD work with a Haldex system.

        Changing the whole Haldex to make the car not understeer is far from what I’d consider an ideal solution (or economical, for that matter).

        About the TT, the only issue the car had was of lift at high speeds, hence, to fix this issue they not only did the suspension re-tune (which, IMO, was unnecessary, as fewer feel “safer” -ie, nose heavy- than the VW products); but also to crucially fit an add-on spoiler, which was really all the car needed. That issue had nothing to do with the chassis balance at lower speeds. It was not snap oversteer either, just plain oversteer the faster you went. To get snap oversteer first you have to have a sudden loss of grip in the rear and since the lift only decreases this, the snap oversteer that you mention couldn’t have ever happened.

        • jorge: Incorrect. i’ve owned a TT for 10+ years now….i KNOW the history of the recall. the spoiler was only the rear downforce of the equation, but the MAIN part of the recall was actually the control arms for the steering (they altered the control arms to a less sensitive and slower setup) and they refitted different sway bars in the rear as well as retuned the suspension with firmer shocks and different settings completely. the car absolutely had major oversteer and snap oversteer issues due to an oversensitive steering along the stock suspension setup prior to the recall, which was ‘softened’ after the recall….BUT i have reverted mine to pre-recall levels and fitments and the car handles absolutely beautifully….point and shoot.

          i never said “all” new AWD cars have Haldex-type systems…..what i was saying is that the NEW AWD systems are all based on electronic differentials just like Haldex… was the prototype for a lot of the production AWD systems in sports cars and sportier cars. It’s a great system with low weight and solid performance.

  4. by all rational accounts the wrx wins but car enthusiasts are not always rational.
    for build quality, reliability, sheer character the vw wins. the narrow angle six is one of the great sounding engines.
    i’ve driven both extensively and for me it’s the vw.
    it’s a better all-rounder.

    • “for build quality, reliability, sheer character the vw wins” really? Reliability? I would disagree. Character and build materials, sure, I would agree the VW wins out in those two.

      • i’m still in touch with the current owners of the 04 r32 and 06 sti.
        both are daily drivers, driven hard but not abused.
        the r32 has covered 137,000km with no major problems, the only non- maintenance replacement was for the stereo cassette player.
        meanwhile the sti has covered 93,000km and needed a new radiator, replacement intercooler piping, two sets of rocker covers, and dccd control unit.

        • Sample sets of 1 each with different owners is hardly conclusive. Lets be honest; VW hardly has a stellar reliability rating over the last 5 years or so

          • true but they were just illustrative examples.
            go onto the fan forums and you’ll find many examples of performance vw’s doing stellar mileages with nothing more than routine maintenance.
            turbo subarus ?
            fat chance of reaching even reaching 150,000km without major work.

  5. Interesting, I always understood Subarus to be extremely reliable, and modern-day Volkswagens the opposite. But then, I owned a mid-90s Fiat that was the most reliable car I’ve ever owned, so you never know what you’ll get. As for these two, surely the turbo engine will maintain more of that power at high-altitude? And you’d get greater gains in wintry conditions? Plus, that nose is one of Subaru’s better efforts post 2nd-gen Impreza

  6. The Subaru hands down. It’s much more fun to drive, has better aftermarket support and it’s an estate/wagon.

  7. WRX wins in my book. Here is why:

    Subaru’s AWD system is either the best in the industry, see various videos on youtube showing the roller ramp tests. Also see the most recent Top Gear (season 19, ep 5 and future ep 6)

    Subarus are more reliable and cheaper to maintain

    Subarus’ longitudinal engine layout is easier to work on with more accessability

    Turbo engines will keep their power at high altitudes, unlike NA engines

    Wagon body style allows more storage

    4 doors allow easier access to rear

    I am a 5 time and current Roo owner, but my first car and love was a ’87 VW Jetta GLi.

    Good luck!

    • Best AWD system? How easily you forget the Evo. In Season 11 they actually demonstrated how terrible the WRX AWD system was compared to the Evo and episode 6 of season 19 was the Africa special where the WRX was compared to two other cars (one without AWD and the other with the wort known AWD system around) where it suffered catastrophic front suspension damage (by the way, doing what all Subie enthusiast gloat it’s supposed to do no less). Using Top Gear and youtube videos to prove this point has the be the worst way to support your claim.

      Subaru engines easier to work on: forgets it takes almost and engine removal to change spark plugs.

      5 time Subaru owner: completely biased thus renders opinion invalid.

  8. Golf looks and sounds better but Subaru wins hands down for the conditions and the fact it’s a wagon

  9. This is tough choice. It really depends on how long your willing too look for one. A lower mileage not tuned and beat to crap WRX is getting harder and harder to find. While I agree the WRX is more fun to drive with its looser rear end and also has pretty solid reliability, there are some big pluses for the R32. The interior and over all build quality are much higher. They have have also had one of the strongest resale values I’ve seen. You could probably get two years of use out of one and sell it for pretty close to what you paid for it (this could be negated by maintenance costs).

  10. I had a gen IV Jetta turbo wagon, and have a current generation WRX.

    I loved my VW. I drove it for almost 10 years and it broke my heart to sell it, but after it hit 100,000 miles, it needed to be put to pasture.

    The new Subie makes me happy. It’s a totally different, less serious experience. It has a more carefree personality. So far, the reliability has been excellent, but I have less than 15k on it.

    Fitted with proper winter tires (you’re planning on using performance snows, right?) either will be suitable, although I bet the Subaru has higher ground clearance.

    Depends on what you are looking for: serious or fun? Right now in my life, I’m looking for the fun.

  11. R32 without a question. The quality of the interior and all of the parts is significantly better. The aftermarket support is surprisingly huge for this car and if you didn’t know that you didn’t own one. It is much more of a sleeper because it is not well known or understood by non VAG heads.

    I didn’t own the WRX Subby wagon but I owned a 2008 STI wagon and it was faster it had great aftermarket support was very practical and the build quality was horrible. Thin paint on the outside and on the interior the same thin pain covers plastic. The brakes were mushy, The rear end was much less predictable in the snow and I was glad to see this car go to another owner. It is sad because I think that the Subby has potential but it is the details that suck.

  12. like Subaru, Subaru Impreza my choose.

  13. To be clear, I made my decision back in 2008. I drove both of these cars and chose the Golf. I’ve put a little over 60k miles on my 2004 R32.

    There are certainly advantages to the Subaru. The aftermarket support is excellent. Tuning is straightforward and can provide substantial gains. Turbocharging means less power loss at altitude. If you have an off-road excursion, a bumper cover is $250 rather than $950.

    That said, the Golf just feels more special to me. It’s a limited production car and I think that really comes through when you sit in the driver’s seat. The ergonomics are fantastic: the seats are wonderful, the controls fall right at hand, and the pedals have great feel. And contrary to an earlier comment, the interior has worn very nicely through the first 106k miles.

    It’s fun to drive, too. The 3.2L VR6 produces a strong bottom and mid-range while freely running to the limiter. The Haldex AWD system does not produce a noticeable delay before engagement. It does, however, make it a superstar in the snow. I’ve never had so much fun sliding around sideways.

    Ultimately the choice will be a personal one. But I’m extremely happy with my decision, 5 years on. I highly recommend the Golf R32.

  14. Let me start off by saying I live in Denver, CO – the very definition of high-altitude and seasonal wintry weather.

    I would say, from my experience, that to a true enthusiast, a turbo is imperative up here. We have some of the steepest and curviest highways in the country, and a turbo+AWD makes it thrilling and enjoyable, whereas it used to be boring and terrifying in an NA car (Just try keeping your cool when an Audi Allroad turbo barrels up behind you while you’re straining, passing a truck with your NA motor)

    I’d rank a turbo much more important than the type of AWD, since most days you won’t be needing the AWD in the first place. That said, I’ve always heard that the Subaru’s is better – quicker, more reliable, better designed, and they’ve been doing it a lot longer to boot. Not much experience with either system, but when someone’s entire lineup is AWD, it sort of says something.

    I’d do some digging on the internets if I were you and see if you can get high-altitude HP and TQ numbers for those cars, or at least those engines. I suspect the NA motor on the R32 takes a considerable hit up high.

    I own a 2004 Volvo S60 2.5T AWD and while the AWD system isn’t the best, it’s never left me stuck and the turbo has never left me wanting for more power – passing uphill, passing at 80, etc. I can imagine a similarly powerful turbo car, which weighs less and has a “better” AWD system would be a great bet. In fact, if I wasn’t in my Volvo, I’d be in a Subaru – however I got a killer deal because Subarus are so much more popular and in-demand out here.

    Also, can’t argue with two more doors and the “sleeper” factor of a little 5 door hatch in 3 shades of gray 😉 Use the extra couple of grand to buy a body kit and some mean snow tires.

  15. I would go for the VW, but I don’t think the WRX would be a bad choice. The VW is just the nicer car of the two, and it is a lot more interesting.

  16. Great responses guys, thanks. And Sean, I was hoping you would chime in.

    This kills me. I *love* the R32 – I like but wouldn’t go so far as to say that about the WRX – but I think Austin and everyone else who cited the turbo being superior at high altitudes is right. Which is a shame, because the R32 just looks and seems more special, inside and out.

  17. Are you going to be at CO altitude? I only ask because I had an NA car at sea level and when I moved here, I was gutted by how anemic it felt. Loved that car, but SO glad I upgraded.

  18. It has to be the WRX as the flat 4 sounds awsome.

  19. Why is the turbo such a problem for an R32? There are several reliable turbo kits for the R32 C2 motorsports, VF engineering, HPA motorsports. Add one of those kits and you will have plenty of umph.

  20. R32. by quite a massive margin. The WRX is ok….but (A) overrated and slow in that form, (B) feels very very cheap, and (C) is ugly as all hell. I have driven both several times and the R32 is a much nicer car to drive and enjoy. That being said, the MK1 TT-V6 would be a better (and better looking!) car than the R32….albeit likely more expensive and tougher to find.

  21. Want a car that straddles the line between the strengths of both choices? How about the 2005-06 Saab 9-2X Aero? You get better materials and sound deadening for the interior than the Subie that push it closer to the realm of the VW. Styling that is more traditionally attractive than the awkward WRX wagon front end. They’re even more exclusive than the limited run of 5,000 R32s – less than 3,500 Aeros were sold in the U.S. during those two years. All the reliability and AWD attributes of the Subaru development are just the icing on the cake. The Saab also depreciated like a Saab and not the Subaru it truly is, so they can be bought cheaply and for less than either the R32/WRX. Lower insurance rates than the comparable WRX, and less chance of a prior owner modding it to death. A friend just found a red ’05 he’s truly enjoying and I think it was a great buy.

    • Yes, I’m a fan of the Saabaru and I’d consider one. If I decided the WRX was the right car for this purpose (and it sounds like it is), then I would include both in my search.

      • I would go with the Saabaru. There’s a significant difference between it and the WRX. SAAB worked the whole thing over so it’s significantly more refined than the impreza. My friend has one and it’s fantastic. Here in the land of Subaru’s I’ve had my fair share of exposure to imprezas, WRX’s, and STIs and the SAAB was my favorite. That and you get a very unique vehicle.

    • @Shawn Great idea! Its almost having your cake and eating it too good idea

  22. I’ll leave my 2 cents. I’ve owned an 04 WRX since new. Don’t know a thing about R32s

    If you’re tracking it at all, the WRX might disappoint. The open front diff isn’t nearly as fun as an STI. Also I’m not sure what the story is on the wheel bearings on 06/07s, but on mine they suck. Knockback on the track is a given unless you’re on new pads. Speaking of brakes, they’re terribly undersized on an 04/05. I know they’re better on the 06/07, but not sure how much better.

    That being said, I love my WRX. I’ve had zero issues with mine, except replacing a front outer tie rods, ball joints, wheel hubs and bearings due to hard track use. It has never not started or given me any issues and mine has been running slightly higher boost since 10K miles. It’s now up to 75K and is back to stock cause I felt I needed more out of a track car. So I bought an E36 M3, which constantly gives me shit. But goodness do I love her and the Techno Violet.

  23. We currently have a 2004 Wrx and live on the eastern slopes of the Rockies. We also previously drove VW’s and love our Subie and it has been maintenance free since new! Great ski car!

  24. R32 : driving experience, sound, look, exclusivity, ergonomic, overall package, German fit & finish… do I need to say more? 🙂

    You must already know, but, simply install a CAI and an exhaust and reprogram the ECU with a Stage II Unitrionic software. You will get a nice 270HP / 260LB-TQ and instant throttle response.

  25. Drew, this was an excellent post. You should try to turn “Please choose:” into a series.

    And if you were really looking to pick between them, I’d still recommend the R32. 🙂

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